It was my first interview with the President, and I expected a simple "Hello" when I walked into the Oval Office last December. Instead, George W. Bush joked, "Cooper! I thought you'd be in jail by now." The leader of the free world, it seems, had been following my fight against a federal subpoena seeking my testimony in the case of the leaking of the name of a CIA officer. I thought it was funny and good-natured of the President, but the line reminded me that I was, very weirdly, in the Oval Office, out on bond from a prison sentence, awaiting appeal--in large part, for protecting the confidence of someone in the West Wing. "What can I say, Mr. President," I replied, smiling. "The wheels of justice grind slowly."
After a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the wheels of justice have stopped grinding--for me, anyway. Last week I testified before the federal grand jury investigating the leak. I did so after I received a specific last-minute waiver from one of my sources, Karl Rove, the President's top political adviser, releasing me from any claim of confidentiality he might have about our conversations in July 2003. Under federal law grand jurors and prosecutors are sworn to secrecy but those who testify, like me, are under no such obligation, which is why I'm able to tell you what happened in the grand jury room. Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel, told me that he would prefer that I not discuss the matter, and I suspect he said the same thing to White House officials who are now treating his request as a command and refusing to comment on the case. I don't know if I can illuminate this confounding investigation, but I can at least explain my small part in it. Like the blindfolded man and the elephant, all I know is what seems to be in front of me.
So here's what happened last Wednesday.
Before going into the grand jury room at 9:30 a.m., my lawyers and I met briefly with Fitzgerald, a couple of his attorneys and the lead FBI agent in the case. It was, to say the least, unsettling sitting there in the federal courthouse in Washington with the man who, for months, had tried to get me to testify or he would put me in jail. Fitzgerald counseled me that he wanted me to answer completely but didn't want to force any answers on me or have me act as if I remembered things more clearly than I did. "If I show you a picture of your kindergarten teacher and it really refreshes your memory, say so," he said. "If it doesn't, don't say yes just because I show you a photo of you and her sitting together."